Recovering My Start-up…and My Life!

I had a great idea after leaving Microsoft Research.  Build applications that sit on top of UC (Unified Communications) platforms to provide organizations with real ROI (Return on Investment) by enabling them to use their UC client software for all their business communications and collaboration, not just conference calls!  The point of UC is to consolidate communications and collaboration to a single, “unified” interface, so we thought, let’s extend that to applications that organizations actually use on a daily basis like Web Chat for any organization with a website who are paying web chat providers a monthly fee for all their representatives when they are now enabled with a UC client application like Microsoft Lync.  Furthering this concept with specific industry use such as with patient care in hospitals by enabling communication and collaboration with existing HMS (Healthcare Management Systems) and EMR (Electronic Medical Record) software platforms, online education for K-12, universities, community colleges and training providers, and to build features we found to be critical when implementing a new software-based UC platform, like enabling organizations to re-use their existing hardware-based phones.  So that was the concept and we prevailed!  To generate funding for applications, we provided UC infrastructure deployment services and deployed over 50+ UC installations for Microsoft with Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with Enterprise Voice, coincidentally becoming one of the Top 10 global UC services firms for Microsoft…and that was not in our business plan:).  We used that revenue with some friends and family funding and built SmartSIP, to connect the Microsoft UC platform to organizations’ existing hardware-based phones.  When seeking funding to build our Web Chat application further, SmartChat, we were approached for acquisition by leading Contact and Call Center providers in the marketplace at a $7.5M valuation…after only putting in $750K plus profit from services revenue.  Instead, we sold SmartSIP via IP acquisition (Product was still in Beta) and used the funding to build out SmartChat.  We were even showcased on a CNN and FOX business series called, “The Today in America Show”!

All was going great…and then…I got sick.  Really sick.  What started out as a minor heartburn from the age of 17 (when I was programming for Compaq Computer Corporation) became a major and misdiagnosed gastrointestinal issue putting me in the hospital over a 18 month period of time.  After 20+ tests and procedures (some very invasive and painful), 23 specialists and physicians visits, diagnosis and misdiagnosis of diseases including Leukemia and Chron’s Disease, and emergency Gallbladder removal, it got to the point where I was unable to concentrate on my laptop, at all.  For a person who loves to disappear into a cave and just write code for endless hours, this was devastating.  Also devastating to my family who endured this with me and didn’t know if their dad or husband was going to make it after several physical collapses, loss of memory, all due to something seemingly so plain as dehydration.  Finally, I was transferred downtown to Baylor Medical Center where a team of competent physicians put the pieces together and decided to perform an additional surgery to reconstruct my esophagus and stomach.  2 months later as of today, I’m better than I have ever been, literally!

The only major issue was…my start-up.  With major time lost, dedicated resources having to work contract elsewhere to make ends meet for their families, and similar unknown understanding if the company was going to make it, as I was still basically the company, there was a lot of work to do.  The market was different, but better.  I started my start-up in 2008 and actually grew the business during the depression due to our niche offerings and awakening through this healthcare scare and resolve, the risk I made in investing in Unified Communications had paid off.  Finally, organizations were deploying UC software-based platforms and in turn, our software was finally seeing prospects turn into actual production sales.  Having the time in the hospital, most times alone and able to work around the clock in the hospital bed, I revamped our website, rebuilt our communications, and also dealt with issues that occurred during the hardest times I had where I was completely unavailable to physically work.  This experience taught me a lot of things, both valuable and invaluable, the greatest of which was determination.  I had that before, but really having undying determination had new meaning.  I love my company and still believed, even in the darkest of times that we would prevail and this risk would be worth it.  It provided me with insight into my business and my relationships with other business partners.  It showed me who I could count on, which relationships mattered, and how to enable laser-focus on what was critical to the business.  Coming out of the gate with this new healthy body and mind, although we are still seeking round-based funding to complete some of the applications we have on our slate, we are focusing on the path-to-cash.  With the software we do have in production, we are finally responding to our prospects, setting up their trials, and transitioning them to production.  We are working with distributors and resellers now who can focus on the customer relationship and host our software, so we can focus on the development of it!

This experience also gave me a lot of time to see what other start-ups were doing by reading blogs online, Entrepreneur Magazine, and guidance books on company planning, seeking tactical funding, and other business-focused guidance.  Being technically focused is just not enough from what I have experienced which is why I changed my title from CEO to Chief Software Architect.  It’s not just the technology that can make you great, it’s the relationships, and taking the time, no, making the time, to work on them, which was something I did not do well before as I was only focused on the science.  This new focus has dramatically changed my business and my business relationships, some of which I had to mend after being initially arrogant about my views which may sound great scientifically, but not realistically.  I also applied this new strategy to a software platform we are set to release called SmartCare, which I put the architecture and feature-base together during my experience throughout the hospital system.  Analyzing both business and technical issues uncovered during my experience, SmartCare will save hospitals billions through the power of Unified Communications software and I am so very blessed to have had this happen and look forward to helping others through this highly capable, innovative, and globally applicable solution, maintaining the same passion and sticking to the same business plan!

In addition to SmartCare, I had been following another like-minded computer scientist, Dr. Sandy Pentland, who manages a team at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.  After over a decade of research and development, Pentland, his team at MIT, and one of the many companies that he has founded, Sense Networks, has been developing and perfecting a science that has been considered one of the top 10 most innovative technologies by the likes of Dr. Stephen Hawking, who also showcased Pentland and team on his new series covered by The Science Channel called, “Brave New World with Stephen Hawking”.  The science is called Human Dynamics and Reality Mining.  I wrote a separate blog on this topic alone via this same blog site (Click Here to Read), but in summary, this was one of those moments where all of the neurons in my brain fired all at once with a “big bang”, knowing, that by applying this scientific method and research within the realm of Unified Communications technology, the potential would be overwhelming and the return would be substantial.  So, based on this opportunity and idea, I have started to develop a series of applications that will one day be part of SmartOrg, a platform that will offer organizations deploying software-based UC solutions the ability to see who in their organization is actually productive, which teams are most productive, how to organize the business more efficiently based on productivity data and human-based relationships, as well as how to predict and create greater efficiency through an organizations business processes.  Basically, the Holy Grail of applications.

To sum up this experience, I have learned what’s most important, how to recover and learn from past mistakes, build better relationships, work smarter, but most importantly, maintain “undying” passion for what I want my start-up to accomplish.  The bottom line is believing, trusting, and being tactical in the approach, path-to-cash, and having a laser-focused business plan.  In just 2 months since being fully back in the saddle again and full throttle, the return has been immense and the UC market is strong and will continue to be strong regardless of global economic conditions proving to offer more opportunity than even cloud-based services alone for those who have a solid business plan and a future-focused concept of communications and collaboration.  I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish despite some very, very difficult times, I’m extremely grateful to my friends and family members for being by my side every step of the way, especially my wife and kids, and I’m also grateful to see that the passion I have for UC applications that we are building are coming to fruition now and that the strategic relationships we have made with organizations like Microsoft and others are now strong and focused on the future because there is some amazing stuff coming…just wait until you see what you can really do with UC!  For more information and to see what’s coming from my start-up, EC, visit http://www.evangelyze.net.

Thanks,

Joe

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